Trevor Flores

Beauty

Smelling Good Helped Hayley Kiyoko Navigate Her Earliest Girl Crushes

The singer-songwriter debuts her first fragrance, HUE.

On top of everything that singer-songwriter Hayley Kiyoko had going on in 2019 — from the release of long-awaited new music to her first-ever beauty partnership — she was working on breaking into completely new territory that she's only just now able to share with the world: personal fragrance.

While entering the beauty category on her own may come as a surprise to some fans, the "L.O.V.E. Me" singer has had this exact project on her bucket list for a long time, and it shows. Currently available for pre-order as of Feb. 5, Kiyoko's gender-inclusive fragrance “HUE” mirrors her commitment to self-empowerment, expression, and creating a safe space for all to find and celebrate themselves — specifically those in the LGBTQ+ community — in all other areas of her art.

Doan Ly

"I love smelling a scent that feels familiar and cozy and comforting, like you're safe and you've been there before," Kiyoko shared with NYLON over the phone. "And so I was like, How do I combine these very fruity and floral notes with something that's really cozy?"

Kiyoko partnered with perfumer Constance Georges-Picot of Cosmo Fragrances, along with development support from Bart Schmidt, to create the fresh scent, designed for long wear time. On top of being vegan, cruelty-free, phthalate-free, and paraben-free, the fruity and floral creation includes many of the perfumer's exclusive ingredients, including Rose and Cacao Blanc Craftivity.

“Like Hayley, we wanted the fragrance to be an expression of liberation, freedom, and self-empowerment. ‘Not easily defined, complicated, powerful, and worthy’ were things Hayley reiterated numerous times,” Constance shared in a press release. To further that vision, the packaging design features an abstract portrait of Kiyoko, illustrated by Liz Hirsch, meant to celebrate and signify the variety of hues in every individual.

Ahead, Kiyoko shares with NYLON about her 2020, the process for creating a perfume, and why smelling good was so crucial to her adolescence.

I'd love to hear about your last year, and what kind of headspace you've been in to get creative about this new project that's a bit out of your comfort zone.

As you know, it's been a wild year, and it was especially a wild beginning of 2021. I've been where everyone else has, just navigating extreme change, being home, and trying to be safe. Luckily I've been able to maintain my health, which I'm really grateful for. I think last year I worked on just taking care of myself — giving myself grace and taking it easy and also finding ways of like, "Oh, OK, this is what I need. I need X, Y, and Z to stay sane."

How did the fragrance plans come about?

I've been working on this perfume for many years. I partnered with Slate Brand a couple of years ago to discuss what kind of products I would want to eventually make in the future. I've always wanted to make a fragrance, so that's always been my number one. Literally from that moment, which was in 2019, I've been working on it all the way up until the end of summer last year. It's been a very long process. It's been tens of different notes and combinations, and really this process has been a very personal [one] for me.

Why fragrance? What has your relationship to the category been like in the past?

It's weird. I don't know how other people feel about it, but for me it's been a massive part of my self-growth and protection — like armor. In middle school and high school, I was obviously still in the closet and facing a lot of rejection and navigating just taking every day one step at a time. I remember waking up and spraying my perfume, at the time I was wearing Elizabeth Arden Green Tea, and I would just spray it, literally, way too much all over my body and I'd go to school and people would be like, "Oh my gosh, you smell so good." And that was like the only compliment I would ever get, which was great. But I never dated girls and I would have crushes on them and they wouldn't like me back, but they liked the way I smelled.

Since those times in my adolescence up until now, I've always loved smelling good. And scent is very nostalgic and it transforms you just like music; you listen to a song and it takes you back. That's what my relationship with fragrance has been. I really wanted to create a perfume that can be an armor for my fans that I'm sure are going through similar things, or have gone through similar things. And self-love is a practice. Courage, vulnerability is a practice. I'd love to make it easier and create a product that can really comfort somebody.

Illustration by Liz Hirsch

What were some of your biggest takeaways going through the production and formulation process?

I partnered with Slate Brand and then I developed this perfume with Constance at Cosmo. We did many, many meetings, many, many sessions — all pre-pandemic, obviously. What kind of smells do you like? What do you not like? What's the feeling you want? I realized that fragrance and music have very parallel creative processes. Because music is composed of notes and chords, and then fragrance can be very overwhelming because there's a top note, a middle note, and a base note. But if you look at it like a song, it's like the beginning of a song.

Then you have a chorus of the song, which is the heart of the perfume. And then you have an outro, which is the base, what you're left with. I'm a very visual person, so when I was able to connect those dots and see it that way, I was like, "Oh, wow, this is a really exciting creative process." Like a song, you have notes and chords, you rearrange them and they make you feel one way and you rearrange them and they make you feel another way. It's the same thing with perfume.

The artwork and packaging that accompany the fragrance are really beautiful. Can you share your thought process around how you wanted to present the fragrance to the world and your fans?

I just love art. I think artists are incredible. I do art, but I can't paint or anything. And so my graphic designer Liz Hirsch and I collaborated and created this image that we decided would be the hero shot. I wanted to implement colors that referenced a rainbow but was left of center and just kind of off, so there are more pastel colors involved in it. I love pink, which is hilarious because I grew up hating pink.

Then when you open the box, it's this vibrant, bright, matte red bottle, which I love. I really connect to the color red, it's very bold, but it's also very vulnerable and can be volatile sometimes. I just really connect with that color and I loved just really making a strong choice like that. And then it obviously has gold accents. What I love about the bottle, too, is that it fits perfectly in your hand. We spent so many revisions cutting the bottle perfectly. So it just like lays perfectly in your palm.

With this project finally out in the world, what's next?

Honestly, I have no expectations for myself because we're all taking it one day at a time, one week at a time, one month at a time. I'm currently mixing my album, which I'm super excited about, but I don't really have a plan when that will be released or when I'll complete it. And then trying to allow myself that space too... It'll happen when it's ready to happen. I'm really excited to release perfume and be able to share something that's so personal and something that's so comforting to myself to my fans during this time, until we're able to reconnect in person and be able to eventually tour and get to hug. And so this is kind of my hug through scents.

Pre-order HUE for $65 at huebyhayley.com.